[Sca-cooks] Use of Soda in period

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Sat Nov 11 14:04:02 PST 2006

> In researching leavening agents, I ran across a reference to using soda,
> cream of tartar, flour and water, to make leavening -- and my assumption, 
> is a
> starter.  What would be a modern equivalent to soda?  Or better yet, what 
> would
> be the period form of soda?  I know baking soda is thoroughly modern and 
> quite
> frowned upon in the Outlands, so, I'm perplexed.

Chemical leavens are meant to be used immediately.  Starters develop over 
time.  Flour and water will create a starter.  Soda and cream of tartar will 
produce a leaven when hydrated.  But the four ingredients together are only 
good for producing soda bread.

Sodium carbonate is soda, now or then.  It was used to tenderize vegetables 
(Roman) or, apparently, as a flavoring agent in one Chinese bread recipe.  I 
know of no reference to it's use as a leaven.  Sodium bicarbonate, the 
modern baking soda, is preferred because it doesn't release all of its CO2 
until heated.  AFAIK, sodium bicarbonate was not used in period.  Baking 
powder is a combination of sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar and 
usually a third compound that releases CO2 at higher temperatures for a good 

Hartshorne (probably ammonium carbonate rather than actual deer antler) was 
used in Germany in the late 16th, early 17th Centuries as a chemical leaven 
(still is for that matter), but it would probably not have been used with a 

I've a number of different chemical leavens from the late 17th and 18th 
Centuries, but no trails leading back into period.

Given a Mediterranean climate, the most probable leaven for bunelos is a 
sourdough starter, but you can fudge it with baking yeast.  If you want real 
starter, try two cups of flour and one cup of water mixed to gether in a 
bowl, cover with plastic, and leave it on the counter for a few days.  One 
cup of starter will leaven about 2 to 4 pounds of bread.  Replace one cup of 
the liquor in your recipe with one cup of starter.

> I probably won't go with that idea.  I will probably use live yeast, but 
> the
> concept intrigues me.  The reference mentions using plant ash to render 
> soda.
> Sounds fairly caustic to me.
> Thanks for any advice you all can offer a new cook!!
> Constanza Marina de Huelva

Potash, also referred to as lye, and a name for several different compounds. 
In this case, you're talking potassium carbonate rather than sodium 
hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, which put the caustic in caustic soda.  I 
think my ramblings on this subject are out in the Florilegium.


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